Conceptualizing Reform and Building Consensus: Islam in South Asia, and some Aspects of Leadership Patterns and Political Consciousness
The preponderant thrust of academic literature on the field of Islam in South Asia often projects a picture of a monolithic Muslim community seamlessly pervaded by broader religious nationalist forces. This paper suggests, this has not always been so, especially in late nineteenth-early twentieth century. Using sources hitherto inadequately utilized this historical sketch of ideas of socio-religious reformism and political culture foregrounds a much more nuanced picture. The instance of the Dā’ūdī Bohrās, a Sevener Shī‘a sect, illustrates how one brand of epistemic construction of reform and progress was taken up by a different strand of politico-ethical thought, rationalizing and relocating it in a new interpretive paradigm. The paper studies the works of two leading Bohrā thinkers, Mulla Abdul Husain and Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy. The qualified absorption of Abdul Husain’s sectarian reformist-revivalist ideas by Adamjee Peerbhoy, intertwined with the latter’s project of reconfiguring Bohrā identity, becomes intelligible against the backdrop of contemporaneous politico-intellectual culture. This involved constant re-charting of the boundaries of the Bohrā community, eventually leading to its linkage with the broader South Asian umma along political lines. This paper explores the theory and praxis of these moments of dialogue and negotiations, tracing the labyrinthine trajectory from socio-religious to political orientations. In doing so, it studies the role of leaders in negotiating identities with critical reference to Paul Brass’s conceptualization of “instrumentality” of elites in political mobilization by way of manipulating symbols, though not losing sight of the contextual specificities conditioning such choices, and examining the role of “individual rationality”.
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